THE CHAMBER - THE ASSOCIATE - SLEEPERS -GET ON THE BUS
LOOKING FOR RICHARD - THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT
BEAUTIFUL THING - SECRETS AND LIES
Director James Foley ("At Close Range," "Glengarry Glen Ross") brings us the latest in the John Grisham novel-to-film juggernaut with "The Chamber," starring Chris O'Donnell as Adam Hill, an idealistic young lawyer who takes on the appeal for the country's oldest death row inmate, convicted killer and white supremacist Sam Cayhall.
In 28 days, Cayhall is scheduled to die in the Mississippi gas chamber for the 1967 bombing of a Jewish civil rights lawyer's offices, where the lawyer's two small children were killed and he crippled.
Why is Adam risking his career and, even, his life for the old man? Because Sam Cayhall, played by Gene Hackman, is also the grandfather of the young attorney.
By taking on the case, Adam is forced to confront the secrets of his family's dark and turbulent past as he uses every legal trick and strategy he knows to win clemency for Cayhall.
Unlike the previous adaptations of Grisham's novels to film, I hadn't read the "The Chamber" before seeing the film, so I had no preconceived notions about the story going in to the film.
This is probably too for me bad since, by the end of the film, I didn't know what the heck the story is supposed to be about! Time frames are haphazardly drawn throughout the film.
Sam Cayhall is tried in 1967, sentenced to death in 1981, and is finally scheduled to die in 28 days as the film opens. Where has grandson Adam been all these years? Trying to finish law school so he could be an attorney so he could jump in to Sam's appeal process at the 11th hour?
At one point, the mother of the two kids killed tells Chris O'Donnell's Adam that her boys would be his age, now. Twice. The only problem is, it is pointedly stated that Adam was born in 1969, while the 5-year-olds were killed in 1967.
I don't know if the book carried such glaring time errors, but the filmmakers certainly should have been more careful.
This is what bothers me about "The Chamber." It's a haphazard effort to confront the issue of capital punishment and the inherent danger of executing an innocent man. The film makes the point that Sam may be innocent of the crime tried for, but the flashbacks show him to be even more cold-blooded than the bombing indicates and, perhaps, deserving of his punishment anyway. Is this pro- or anti-death penalty? Beats me.
Gene Hackman certainly has more of a character to chew on with Sam Cayhall than he did as the doctor-as-god cameo he gave in "Extreme Measures." I found his performance to be more solid than exceptional. He is still the best reason for seeinging the film.
Faye Dunaway, while terribly miscast, age-wise, as Sam's estranged daughter, shows her talent and experience and is almost able to pull off playing a 45-year-old. Almost. Casting her as Cayhall's younger sister would have made more sense than daughter. Dunaway does her best with the character.
Chris O'Donnell is, shall we say, stalwart in his effort to portray the idealistic lawyer and grandson. He shows the pressures of responsibility in having to carry a major film. He tries hard, but is clearly not ready for the star-turn.
The rest of the supporting cast - with the exceptions of Bo Jackson as a prison guard close to Sam, and Raymond Barry as the mysterious, cold-blooded accomplice - are pretty routine.
If the filmmakers - I won't blame Grisham until I read the book - think that "The Chamber" will change anyone's views on capital punishment, they've missed the mark.
"The Chamber" is a mediocre effort at best. It doesn't hit hard enough on the death penalty to have any social impact. It meanders around the issue for it's run time and, in the end, it tries to have it both ways and fails.
I give "The Chamber" a C.
"The Chamber," directed by James Foley, is the fifth film adaptation of a John Grisham novel. In it's favor, this is the least Hollywoodized adaptation as it's not afraid to present grim realities and bucks "happy ending" syndrome. However, despite a good performance from Gene Hackman as the racist grandfather guilty of murder and an opening sequence ripped off from "In the Name of the Father," it's strangely muted.
Chris O'Donnell is earnest as Adam Hall, the grandson of Sam Cayhall who's vehemently against the death penalty and believes his grandfather may be innocent. Adam also is ready to come to terms with his family's past which includes his father's suicide. While O'Donnell is competent in the role, his anguish as the story progresses is mostly portrayed by the darkening of the circles under his eyes.
Faye Dunaway is quite good as Lee Bowen, the alcoholic daughter of Cayhall who's managed to cover up her past and rise in southern society. Her nephew's actions force her to also come to terms with her past and face her feelings for her father. Dunaway, who too frequently overacts, plays the tragic role here with soul weary grace.
Other cast members are OK - there's nothing bad here, just not anything terribly exciting. Bo Jackson is convincing in his film debut in a small role as the prison guard who deals with Sam.
The story makes one question one's feelings on the capital punishment issue in a way similar too, but far less effective than, "Dead Man Walking." Yes, the accused is guilty, but his "redemption" doesn't pack the emotional wallop of the earlier film. My overall reaction to "The Chamber" is apathy.
"The Associate", directed by Donald Petrie, stars Whoopie Goldberg as Laurel Ayres, a very talented Wall St. financial analyst who's passed over for a promotion in favor of her less intelligent, but male coworker Frank, played by "Wings"' Tim Daly. Laurel angrily walks from the firm and starts her own, but is discouraged when no matter how good her proposals are, she's turned down by former business associates. Two things change all that. Her former secretary, Sally, played by Dianne Wiest, ironically must prove her worth to Laurel by using her connections to arrange a meeting with Fallon, a powerful investor played by Eli Wallach. Laurel also creates a fictional male business partner, Robert S. Cutty, when Fallon refuses to do business with a woman.
Whoopi Goldberg is her usual likeable self as Laurel Ayres, the woman who invents the eccentric Robert S. Cutty to present her business strategies to the cutthroat investiment community without having to close deals at strip clubs or on golf courses. Bebe Neuwirth has a ball as Camille, a woman who uses her feminine wiles to get close to powerful men - her pursuit of Cutty is one of the most enjoyable aspects of "The Associate" (a terrible title, by the by). Dianne Wiest has the juciest role as Sally, a woman who's not only overlooked by the men in the business (Daly always refers to her as Sweetie), but also by the women because of her position as a secretary. Wiest's sweetness belies her intelligence and ability and her ascension of the corporate ladder is more fulfilling than Goldberg's. Daly is suitably underhanded if not much else. Austin Pendleton is a natural as the brilliant software guru with no head for business taken under Goldberg's wing.
"The Associate" also has fun with the media's penchant for going into a feeding frenzy over the press shy, as it does here in an effort to come up with the goods on the nonexistant Cutty. Lanie Kazan is the tenacious representative of the media who doesn't care who she walks over in order to come up with a story. Laurel is finally forced to impersonate Cutty in a massive makeup job (it's plot convient that one of Laurel's tenants is a transvestite club performer) that suggests Howard Hughes crossed with Marlon Brando. Her plan is to kill him off in order to avoid a charge of fraud, but I was scratching my head wondering why Laurel doesn't also think to plan how to avoid also killing off her business. Fortunately, the plot manages to sidestep that issue for her.
So, is "The Associate" funny? Well, sometimes, usually during Neuwirth's scenes. Most of the time, however, it's a pale retread of countless dual- identity flicks. "The Associate" also seems to lose steam just when it should be building a head of it - in it's last act.
"Tootsie" it ain't.
In "The Associate," what should have been a scathing and humorous indictment against the sexist/racist male dominated hierarchy of the Wall Street machine, is a slightly funny, corporate farce that has more in common with the "Cheers" episode where Norm invents a fake partner to get respect. "The Associate" is not that different and not much deeper.
Whoopi Goldberg has about four films out or coming out this fall. So far, with "Bogus and, now, with "The Associate," she's giving the same spin on her character. She doesn't have the edge in these films.
Support is professional, if unchallenged, with Dianne Wiest providing an amiable character as Whoopi's assistant and friend, Sally, and Eli Wallach as the gruff Wall Street tycoon.
Bebe Neuwirth is miscast as the high finance vamp.
Tim Daly is virtually forgettable. I didn't remember he was in the movie until I started writing the review
Unlike the gender changes by Robin Williams in "Mrs. Doubtfire" or Dustin Hoffman in "Tootsie," Whoopi's male persona is nowhere near as intriguing or believable as the others. I think the dificulty is not, in this case, the gender change, but the race switch. It doesn't work well, here and, thankfully, the gag is used sparingly. A forgettable film of a few years ago, "True Identity," did the black-to-whitch change much more convicingly.
"The Associate" doesn't work on the level it should. It misses its chance to be a meaningful, funny, diatribe against male dominated corporate America.
Instead, it's merely a hide and seek game as Whoopi's Laurel finds it harder and harder to hide the false existence of her partner, in a not too funny way. There were no real laughs and only the occasional chuckle.
I give it a C-.
Director-writer Barry Levinson brings to the screen his adaptation of the best-selling book by Lorenzo Carcaterra, "Sleepers," telling the story of four young boys growing up in the innocence and corruption of New York City's Hell's Kitchen in the mid-60's.
Part One of the story details a single event in the lives of the four friends - a stupid, little prank that nearly ends the life of a man and catapults the four out of their childhood and into a world of violence, abuse and fear at the Wilkinson Home For Boys.
Part Two jumps ahead to the early 80's. The boys have grown and gone their separate ways, each ashamed of their common past, when fate puts their childhood tormentor, reform school guard Sean Nokes (played by Kevin Bacon), into the hands of two of the quartet, ending in murder.
Now, the four are once again bound together to seek whatever justice they can, right or wrong, for the horrific abuses they suffered so many years ago.
I'm in a bit of a quandary about "Sleepers."
Barry Levinson does a solid job of adapting the book to the screen. Unfortunately, the story he adapted has a focus that is opposite of what Levinson brings to the screen.
The bulk of the book, by Lorenzo Carcaterra, concentrates mainly on the boys, their friendship, and the tragedy that changed their lives. The adult portion of the original story deals with revenge and justice in a quick, short manner.
Levinson, with his stellar adult cast of Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman and Brad Pitt, is kind of hemmed in to changing the focus and concentration of the story to accommodate his big deal actors.
Herein is the problem with "Sleepers":
The richest part of the story, that of the young boys, is crisply and stylishly dealt with in the first hour of the film. The abuse of the boys in reform school is delicately handled, visually, without overtly graphic depictions of the abuses they suffer in the hands of the sadistic guards.
The second two thirds of the film is about 20% of the story, so, where the first hour is tightly paced, the last 1 1/2 hours tends to take on an air of slow motion movement, comparatively.
To Levinson's credit, the performances by DeNiro, NOT playing a psycho for once, and Dustin Hoffman, make the second part of the film worth watching. Dustin Hoffman blows me away with his portrayal of a boozed-up, has-been attorney handed his case on a silver platter. A small role, but one to be remembered.
Brad Pitt and Jason Patric are, sorry to say, far overshadowed by their more mature colleagues. Neither has any real presence, in my mind, especially Pitt, whose star-power is far greater than his acting ability. Patric never impressed me anyway.
The young actors playing the boyhood friends are very servicable, with the young Joe Perrino giving one hell of a performance as Shakes, the boy.
Vittorio Guzzman lends strong support as mob boss, King Benny.
One character, named Fat Man (I haven't found his real name in the press materials), acts as the boys' muse as they grow up into adults. A good actor giving a good and notable performance.
Again, my main complaint: stretching a 20 or 30 minute, at best, section of the film into 1 1/2 hours causes the movie to bog. Also, there is a gritty edge to the book that gets lost in the translation.
"Sleepers" is decent, though not great story-telling. Accommodating the adult story takes away from the kids' story, which has the greater appeal.
I still give "Sleepers" a B.
Barry Levinson's "Sleepers" has a cast that's sure to add endless possibilities to the game that proves that Kevin Bacon is the center of the universe. There are eight actors portraying the four principles, with Joe Perrino the standout of the film as the young "Shakes." Too bad he's replaced by the dull Jason Patric as his older incarnation. Brad Renfro ("The Client") manages to be as insipid as the young Michael as Brad Pitt is later on. Geoff Wigdor and Ron Eldard both have interesting presence as John, a lesser character who they fully flesh out. Local Bostonian Jonathan Tucker and new sensation Billy Crudup give only the ghost of a character in Tommy. Besides Perrino, Dustin Hoffman is at the top of his form as the alcoholic lawyer Snyder drawn into Michael's plan by Vittorio Gassman's King Benny. It's refreshing to see Robert DeNiro's steet smart priest after a string of psycho roles.
"Sleepers" (a term for juvenile offenders who have served more than 9 months) is frequently moving and often suspenseful. Unfortunately most of those moments occur in the first hour, when the four central characters are introduced (with excessive narration by Jason Patric) and then incarcerated in a hellish reform school where they're at the mercy of the evil guard Sean Nokes (Bacon). There's even some humor in the early part of the film when DeNiro's understanding Father Bobby gently acknowledges the boys' Catholic pranks. When those pranks escalate, however, a fateful accident sharply changes the tone of the film.
Levinson shows admirable restraint in presenting the abuse the boys suffer at the hands of Nokes without diminishing the horror. Michael Balhaus' cinematograpy is also noteworthy - his camera rushing through the lower corridors of the Wilkinson Home for Boys speaks volumes.
The film loses its potency in its last act, though, when Michael enlists Shakes with a tricky plot to free Tommy and John from a murder rap by taking the role of the prosecuting attorney. "Sleepers" is based on the book by Lorenzo Carcaterra (Shakes) and is supposely true. However, when the outcome of the murder case rests on a false alibi provided by Father Bobby, I had too many questions which the film makes no effort to answer. Why does no one question the fact that the two accused had made no mention of being with the priest on the night of the murder? And why was the priest such a last minute witness in such a high profile case?
"Sleepers" is worthwhile overall. It's just a pity that the casting and script couldn't sustain the quality present in the first half.
GET ON THE BUS
"Get On The Bus" is Spike Lee's low budget road movie which chronicles the trip taken by a wide variety of black men from LA to the Million Man March in Washington DC. Charles S. Dutton is the groups' organizer and employee of the Spotted Owl bus company. Ossie Davis is Jeremiah, the old voice of reason making a journey that responsibilities kept him from in the '60s. Also making the journey are a father with a court order to keep his son shackled to him for 72 hours, a gay couple, a devout Muslim who was a former gang member, a cop who's mother was white, a loud mouthed actor who was "almost" in "Boyz in the Hood" and a film student making a video documentary.
"Get on the Bus" may well be the best film Spike Lee's made since "Do the Right Thing." Although the story's not original - a group of disparate characters come together for a common cause and experience personal journeys and tolerance along the way - it's so well written, acted and directed that it's completely fulfilling.
Lee worked fast using hand-held 16 mm cameras as most of the action takes place in the enclosed space of a bus. Using both color and black and white, some grainy shots and some simple camera tricks, Lee seems to revel in the low budget filmmaking environment. Not only that, but he's thrown away his requisite annoying moving camera, static subject shot that's annoyed me in every film he's used it in.
The cast is simply top notch across the boards. It's fun to see two members of TV's "Homicide" here - Andre Braugher is great as the grandstanding actor with a propensity for stirring up trouble and confrontations while Richard Belzer adds a smaller touch as a Jewish relief driver who feels he must abandon a trip to an event sponsored by the anti-Semitic Louis Farakhan. DeAundre Bonds is funny as the son who's initially unwilling to take part in both the event and the bonding so desired by his dad, played by Thomas Jefferson Byrd. Isiah Washington and Harry Lennix are the gay couple who's relationship is disintegrating but who find friendship. Gabriel Casseus is the devout Muslim who's admission of former crimes causes Roger Guenveur Smith's cop to come to terms with the murder of his policeman father at the hands of a black man. Ossie Davis is the father figure maintaining grace after years of oppression. Charles S. Dutton keeps everyone in line and keeps the group focussed on the reason for their journey. An uncreditted Randy Quaid makes an appearance as a racist state trooper.
There are laughs aplenty, even when some very serious issues are being presented. An OJ joke gets a big laugh, but then again, no comment is made about Michael Jackson, who sings the film's title song.
As always with Lee films, the opening credit sequence is a mini film in itself, presenting a slave in chains. The image is always present due to the device of the court order and used again for the closing shot of abandoned shackles lying at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.
The Million Man March itself is represented by crowd shots of the traffic congestion getting into Washington DC and what I presume is documentary footage. It's ironic that the audience experience more of the actual march than do any of the characters. But the essence of that historical march has been experienced by each and every one of them.
LOOKING FOR RICHARD
Al Pacino has taken a very different and original turn in bringing Shakespeare to the 90's audiences in "Looking For Richard."
In a years long effort, Pacino brings together such acting talent as Estelle Parsons, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Winona Ryder and Aidan Quinn as the cast of his adaptation of Shakespeare's "Richard III," with himself as Richard.
Pacino intends, with this effort, to help modern audiences develop an understanding, even a feel, for Shakespeare. He combines his play-in-progress with interview segments by such luminaries to the Shakespearean stage as Sir John Gieldgud, Sir Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh, Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones, Viveca Lindfors and Kevin Kline.
This combination helps make "Looking For Richard" a quite modern effort, indeed.
Make no mistake about it. "Looking For Richard" is not an attempt by Al Pacino to bring Shakespeare to the masses. The masses want to see things blown up and naked people, not Shakespeare.
What Pacino succeeds in doing is, simply, taking a difficult Shakespeare play, "Richard III," and, with a little help from some pretty impressive friends, explains the story of Richard and Shakespeare's decidedly flowery language used to tell that story.
As the film - really a documentary - progresses, Pacino and friends peel away the mystery of Shakespeare like peeling away the layers of an onion. As they explain and demonstrate the Bard's work, they modernizes the play without changing it.
In one wonderful, short sequence in the film, one of the actor in the production (uncredited in the press material) compares the language of today to that written by Shakespeare. The modern line might be:
"Hey, you. Go over there, get that thing and bring it back to me"
"Be Mercury. Set feathers to thy heals and fly, like thought, from them to me, again"
For me, this one comparison hit home with what Pacino wants to accomplish with this taxing effort. Not to make the audience understand all that Shakespeare wrote, but to open the man's work so the audience can feel what he says. It succeeds wonderfully on this level.
"Looking For Richard" deserves to be included as part of any highschool or college curriculum that includes an introduction to Shakespeare. Kids seeing this film first may well end up with a better understanding of the Bard's work, and that's not a bad thing.
Pacino should be applauded for his work and tenacity in bringing "Looking For Richard" to the screen.
I give this a strong B+.
"Looking for Richard" is a barrel of fun, especially for Pacino fans. In this highly original concept, a documentary of the making of a film of Shakespeare's "Richard III," Pacino mixes pre-production tasks such as casting with rehearsal readings, history lessons (we get a rundown on the War of the Roses which explains the historical basis for the play), people-on-the-street interviews, dress readings, celebrity interviews, visits to the original Globe Theater and cocktail parties!
Pacino's enthusiasm for Shakespeare, and particularly this play, is catching. He also manages to elicit a lot of laughs throughout, beginning with his first stage entrance.
Some of the highlights of "Looking for Richard" are Vanessa Redgrave explaining iambic pentameter, the juxtaposing of a modern line with a Shakespearean reading, the filmmakers being nabbed by the cops for not having a permit, an examination of the line "G the murderer shall be" and the subtle change Pacino decides to make to it, the wearying crews' calls to Pacino to wrap things up and Redgrave again, explaining the emotion of playing Shakespeare crosscut with an on-the-street with a panhandler who's saying the same thing!
"Looking for Richard" frequently recalls "Vanya on 42nd St." if that group had been a little crazier. Considering the amazing amount of source material available for this effort (80 hours, I believe), the editor is to be commended - not only is the information well formatted and presented, it's wittily editted as well.
The actual cast includes Winona Ryder, Estelle Parsons, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey and Aidin Quinn, but Kevin Kline, Vanessa Redgrave, Jeanne Moreau, Derek Jacobi, James Earl Jones and Kenneth Brannaugh also have significant screen time. The one weak spot in the whole film is the Lady Anne segment - Winona Ryder says nothing out of character and her character is, therefore, the least explained - good marquee wattage, but not great casting. But the film is truly Pacino's baby and he's a delight in character as Richard as well. I enjoyed this more than the highly praised Ian McKellan "Richard III" of last year.
THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT
In director Renny Harlin's second attempt to turn wife Geena Davis into an action star, "The Long Kiss Goodnight" is an absurdly goofy over the top action thriller based on that hoariest of plot devices - amnesia.
Davis is unwed Mom Samantha Caine, living an idealic life in a small town with no recollection of her life since she woke up on a beach pregnant with her daughter 8 years ago.
A dramatic bump on the head starts having the most curious effects on her personality - she suddenly develops such an expertise with knives that she becomes a human Cuisinart in the kitchen and becomes so hardened that she delivers a lecture on how life is about pain to a daughter who's just fractured an ankle in a skating mishap. She embarks on a mission to discover more about her identity with threadbare detective Hennesy (Samuel L. Jackson) who's come up with a lead. No sooner do they arrive at a prearranged meeting point with a man from her past than they're being shot at and escaping fireballs. Seems Caine is really Charlie Baltimore, a CIA assassin whom everyone had presumed dead.
"The Long Kiss Goodnight" is far from great but it's two leads appear to be having so much fun that I ended up having fun along with them.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who's tired of seeing hails of bullets from the bad guys completely destroy a landscape except for the heroes who run through unscathed. We've all had our share of people outrunning fireballs. "Mission Impossible" gave me enough on the convoluted plot front and "The Crow: City of Angels" provided enough insipid bad guys for a whole year. But, "The Long Kiss Goodnight" had enough good moments to make for a fun experience. For one thing, it has a distinctive title for a change - no "Fatal Risk" here! For another, it's got Geena acting tough and I wouldn't want to mess with her - I could tell that after seeing her handle a shot glass! Where else could one witness Geena Davis offering a full frontal shot to Samuel L. Jackson in order to distract him long enough to rip off a bandage??? Not to mention his reaction.... I also haven't seen someone on iceskates take out a carful of bad guys either, at least not outside of a hockey rink. "The Long Kiss Goodnight" keeps piling one outrageous stunt on top of another until I was laughing out loud at the sheer audicity of it!
This one's a real guilty pleasure. Don't try to make a whole lot of sense out of it, ignore all but the two leads and don't get sucked in by the sappy mother-daughter stuff (Charlie Baltimore doesn't) and you may just have a good time.
The biggest missed opportunity in "The Long Kiss Goodnight" is, as Charly, the hit lady, comes out from under the amnesia and performs remarkable and startling feats, her husband, Hal, does not say the line, "Honey, you're beginning to worry me!"
This is pretty standard action hero stuff, with the exception of having Gena Davis take on the traditional male role. And she's not bad!
The problems with the film are:
secret government bad guys are everywhere!
many of Samuel Jackson's one liners are lost in the action and noise, which means they lost alot of the humor, too.
the film meanders around to its rather ambiguous point in the end, succeeding only in stacking up an impressive body count, without a clear definition what it's all about.
pacing is erratic. Direction should be crisp, but isn't. Renny Harlin does not impress me.
story is a sorry duplicate of other, generic, action films and offers nothing new.
Samuel L. Jackson is one of my favorite actors in the business. He helped keep the third "Die Hard" movie from being a dud and lends the same stability to "The Long Kiss Goodnight," keeping IT from bombing out.
Gena Davis may be the only winner, here. If played right, she may carve a significant niche in the action star genre for herself.
Supporting cast is thoroughly mediocre, lacking any decent bad guys who you can love to loathe.
It's brash, it's noisy, it's a C+ - mainly due to Jackson. Definitely not due to Renny Harlin.
Based on the stage play by young playwright Jonathan Harvey, "Beautiful Thing" is a gay coming-of-age story set during one hot summer in Southeast London.
Jamie is a bright, introverted teen who spends his time skipping school and arguing with his mother, a pub manager with dreams of owning her own place, some day.
Next door lives Ste, a good-looking young guy who seeks refuge in Jamie's home from the regular beatings inflicted on him by his drunken, abusive father.
During one of the frequent overnight stays, Jamie and Ste discover their mutual affection and love. Adding another dimension to this slice of life is another young neighbor, Leah, a highschool drop who idolizes The Mamas and the Papas and the late Cass Elliot - and not much else.
"Beautiful Things" is a by-the-numbers, stereotypical right of passage story, handled rather gently. The love interest between the two boys does not blaze new trails in gay cinema, though.
The one interesting character study in the film, that of Jamie's mother, Sandra, played by Linda Henry, far overshadows the story of the two boys. The viewer is confronted with her hopes, dreams and burdens, so we get to know and identify with this woman. Her story is much more compelling than that of the boys', so the impact of their relation is overshadowed by the mother's life.
Maybe it's not a problem with the play because of the focus a stage production has. On the screen, the story loses this focus, trying to bring in the outside elements, such as the mother or the Mama Cass-obsessed Leah. Attention is drawn away from the main story of boys in love.
It is a first direction job by Hettie MacDonald, so some slack has to be given, but overall, there is not alot of appeal for "Beautiful Thing."
I give it a C-
"Beautiful Thing" is an attempt to make a low budget slice of life story at one actual London tenement with a solid and engaging performance by Linda Henry who plays "the Mom" in this ensemble piece. Unfortunately, it doesn't suceed. This must be the wispiest film I've seen all year - I can remember little about it one month after seeing it. Hard-working understanding Mom lives with shy son who discovers true love with the boy next store. The girl who lives in the other next store has quit school and is obsessed with Mama Cass. There's really not much more to say here and I wouldn't recommend this except as maybe a cable look-see.
SECRETS AND LIES
"Secrets And Lies" is the 1996 Cannes Film Festival Best Picture and Actress winner. Directed by Mike Leigh, "Secrets and Lies" is about a dysfunctional family on the verge of being blown wide open by an unforseen event.
Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn) is a sad lower class unwed mother living with her prickly daughter Roxanne in a London row house. Her younger brother Maurice (Timothy Spall) is a successful photographer caught between his sister and his bitter wife Monica (Phyllis Logan).
When young middle class black optometrist Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) decides to search out her birth mother after her adoptive parents die, she's astonished to find a white woman - Cynthia. Although Maurice and Monica are aware that Cynthia had an earlier child out of wedlock, Roxanne, Cynthia's younger daughter has no idea. In a rare effort to please Maurice, Monica invites Cynthia and Roxanne to her new posh home for a 21st birthday celebration for Roxanne. Cynthia invites Hortense, introducing her to the rest of the family as a friend from work. The stage is set for a family blowout of immense proportions with a soul cleansing aftermath.
Director Mike Leigh is famous for his filmmaking method - he begins with the most basic story outline and no scripted words, gathers a cast and rehearses them while they construct their dialog. He gets incredible results, such as David Thewliss' searing performance in "Naked." "Secrets and Lies" characters take the viewer through some painful moments, but, unlike "Naked," the final result is cathartic. Everything about this film rings true.
Brenda Bleythn (who last appeared onscreen as the mother in "A River Runs Through It") is just terrific as Cynthia - the half whining/half lilting "sweetheart" tacked on to her addresses is a miniature embodiment of her character - needy and heartfelt. Timothy Spall made me ache for his well meaning Maurice - he's a nice guy suffering because of those around him. Phyllis Logan must walk a fine line to not totally turn people off her Monica - Cynthia's summed Monica as a "toffee nosed cow," but that's a little harsh. She has become self absorbed with her own secret, however, and doesn't realize how she's been neglecting Maurice.
The final coda is so fully realized it's as if it had been choreographed. Roxanne's twenty-first birthday party erupts when Cynthia blurts out the true identity of Hortense. Once this happens, one revelation tumbles after another accusation until Maurice calls a halt with a speech about hurt and secrets and lies. Then the healing begins, most movingly when after their guest have left, Maurice tells Monica that he's afraid she doesn't love him anymore; most amusingly as Hortense and Roxanne both sun themselves with Cynthia behind their delapidated row house.
"Secrets and Lies" may well be able to accomplish what family councilling could not. Worth every bit of it's over two hour run time, it's one of the best films of 1996.
I have to hand it to Mike Leigh for his ability to take the lives of working class stiffs with problems more painful than the average bear's and make there trials and tribulations both entertaining and emotionally satisfying.
In "Secrets and Lies," his main character, Cynthia, is an emotional basket case. She's the quintessential mother figure with no one to mother.
Cynthia's soon-to-be 21-year-old daughter, Roxanne, outrightly rejects any of Cynthia's displays of maternal affection.
She also has a long-standing misunderstanding with Monica, the wife of her misunderstood brother, Maurice (Timothy Spall). Monica's seemingly cold attitude toward Cynthia (caused by Monica's inability to have children of her own) provides an additional, more complex, family rift.
Taking the emotional explosion-waiting-to-happen and adding the introduction of Cynthia's daughter, Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a young black woman Cynthia put up for adoption a quarter century earlier, made me feel like I was watching an accident about to happen. The difference is that, at the bottom of all the angst and suffering experienced by everyone in the family, there is a core of hope. Hortense is the catalyst used to bring this core to the surface.
By the end of "Secrets and Lies," you're more relieved than anything else that the family stands a chance of making it.
Brenda Blethyn, as Cynthia, brings the viewer on an roller coaster ride as she goes from ecstatically happy, to thoroughly depressed, in a matter of seconds. You feel her turmoil and desperately want her to be happy, if only to stop her from crying!
Watching a Mike Leigh film (with the exception of 1993's "Naked") is like watching real life - it's not always appealing, but it is a compelling view of human nature and resilience.
Not a great film, having lesser story threads that make no sense and go nowhere, but an interesting one for film buffs and Mike Leigh fans.
I give "Secrets and Lies" a B.
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